Jennifer Meta Robinson
The Farmers' Market Book
What takes people out into the rain or heat to buy a bag of tomatoes at a farmers' market, when they can purchase them 24-7 in temperature-controlled comfort at the local supermarket? The explosion of farmers' markets across the country attests to Americans' growing desire to have a connection to their food that goes beyond the supermarket. As dissatisfaction with our increasingly homogenized and rootless culture grows, many people now look to farmers' markets for a sense of community.
The Farmers' Market Book examines this national phenomenon through the story of the market in Bloomington, Indiana, and considers the social, ecological, and economic power of farmers' markets generally. Authors Jennifer Meta Robinson and J. A. Hartenfeld describe farmers' markets as a rewarding intersection of rural and urban lives, sustaining and healing both our communities and our relationship to the land. While they may seem nostalgic or idealistic, these markets are both current and forward-looking, cultivating a fresh, diverse space and recognizing the personal differences of community members. An intimate and complex commonground, farmers' markets far more than places to buy food.
Chapter 1: Markets Past
In a colorful, bustling marketplace, a customer approaches a watermelon vendor. Any place. Any time. She wants, of course, a ripe one:
Customer: Are they good ones?
Vendor: These are the only ones I'll grow.
Customer: But they have seeds?
Vendor: They have seeds.
Customer: They're not mushy? They're all right? All right, I'll trust you.
Vendor: As long as you can wait until it's ripe. Don't get impatient.
Customer: Right. Do you have any more back there that might be ripe? I'd like a $5 one.
Vendor: These are five and all those back there are all four. Feel free to look through them and thump them and smell them or whatever test you like to do.
Customer: This one looks good.
Vendor: I try and go by the sound test. There's cues when to pick them. When the tendril dies back where the stem is attached--Where the main stem is, there is a little tendril that will die. And then the spot on the bottom will get darker. And then the final test is the ping-pang-punk thump test.
Customer: Punk is good?
Vendor: Ping is good. Punk is a little overripe.
Customer: [She thumps the melon.] This one's good, right?
Vendor: I'll tell you how many hours you have to wait. [He thumps the melon.] This one's pretty close. Tonight or tomorrow for breakfast.
Customer: It's got to be for today!
Vendor: My final test is I put a knife in it. Not all the way. And you slightly twist the knife and if it doesn't split open, it isn't ready. It bursts open when it's ripe. That's our final test.
Customer: I'm buying this because I want it for today to take to my family. I guess I don't know what it's supposed to sound like--I'm expecting you to know.
Vendor: If you're not satisfied, come back next week, and I'll give you another one.
The fruits on offer and the markers of their ripeness may differ, but the essential market experience is the same--buyer and seller meet one-to-one to make a trade. They do so at a marketplace that is instantly recognizable--many traders gathered together in small stalls designated by front doors, kiosks, awnings, umbrellas, or simple mats on the ground. Negotiations on price and quality take place as explicit or implicit, vocal or interior haggling. Most typically the meeting takes place out of doors, in the morning before the offerings show the effects of heat or cold or rain. They happen on a regular basis, every day or every week or during the harvest season. People in the marketplace linger to observe, editorialize, and gossip, passing on news, wisdom, and wit.
This exchange could occur at any market, though it happened to take place at a Midwestern American market. Something not so different happens at markets around the world. At the floating markets in Vietnam and Thailand, sellers row small boats full of oranges, grapes, papayas, cabbages, beans, and onions that they have grown in their own orchards and fields along canals to waterborne marketplaces. Some customers rent boats in order to go among the vendors to haggle. Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market offers acres of live animals, handicrafts, books, produce, and more. In Marrakech's Bab Doukkala market, wine from local vineyards is the order of the day, and sheep's heads, lamb, recently butchered cows and chickens can be found along with eggplants, artichokes, lemons, mint, and marjoram. The giant Kumasi market in Ghana is organized by type of product, with all the cloth, plantains, yams, onions, and so on each in its designated section. If a vendor finds that her area is drifting into a different line of produce, then she may rather shift her own offerings than move her stall. At the renovated Ver-o-peso market in Belem do Para, Brazil, customers often travel by boat from their homes on islands in the Amazon River. In La Paz, vendors in bowler hats at the Weekend Women's Market sit on the ground beside neat bundles and heaped baskets. In Zanzibar's Old Town Market, men do most of the shopping along narrow winding streets, often several times a day for lack of refrigeration at home. Shoppers in Ecuadorian markets may insult vendors as a calculated way to pressure them into lowering prices. And in markets around the world, sellers cut better deals, longer measures, and cheaper prices to people their consider their own...
About the Authors
Authors Jennifer Meta Robinson and J. A. Hartenfeld are long-time Bloomington market vendors who live on and work a farm in Greene County. Hartenfeld has 30 years of experience growing flowers and ornamentals for local distribution. Robinson, his wife, in addition to helping on the farm, is a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. From 2000-2008, she directed the Indiana University Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Program, which won the prestigious TIAA-CREF 2004 Hesburgh Award.
About the Photographers
Dan Schlapbach is Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Director of the Photography Program at Loyola College in Baltimore. Jennifer Roebuck is an independent illustrator whose mixed media work has been exhibited nationally. She lives with Schlapbach, her husband, in Baltimore, Maryland. Both have first hand experience growing and selling the produce of Hart Farm, and buying the goods of farmers' markets in their local Baltimore markets. The 59 color photos by this creative team bring the sights of the market and the farms of southern Indiana to life.
Original Paper Edition
288 pages, 9 b&w photos, 59 color photos
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Indiana University Press, 2007
"I recommend this work highly. The history of farmers markets around the world was especially interesting and well written. The photographs are excellent and the book is a joy to read. Useful for anyone interested in farmers markets or growing good food."
"This book is a welcome addition to the limited literature on alternate food distribution and production. In the authors’ words, “Markets present the possibility of common ground for a diverse society.” This book makes an excellent case for supporting local farmers’ market and growers."
"Bloomington, IN hosts one of the country's great farmer's markets and the academics turned market vendors who wrote the book weave a wonderful story of not only their experiences, but a well researched history of farm markets in general and the larger vision of local food systems."